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Rosa Parks In Alabama 1955
I was attending the ‘Destination Star Trek Birmingham’ convention at the time this ‘Doctor Who’ episode was shown on TV on a Sunday evening. I didn’t get a chance to watch it when shown on TV.
Thankfully my parents and I caught up on watching the episode the following day via BBC iPlayer. I found ‘Rosa’ to be an amazing episode! It is one of the best out of Series 11, being an historical tale!
This episode is by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall. Malorie Blackman has done a ‘Doctor Who’ story before, though not for the TV show since she penned the Puffin e-short story ‘The Ripple Effect’.
That featured the Seventh Doctor, Ace and the Daleks, celebrating the TV show’s 50th anniversary. Malorie Blackman is also a black woman. You may wonder why I raise this point in the review itself.
But that is rather the subject for this particular ‘Doctor Who’ episode. The episode focuses on racism and segregation issues in the United States of America between white and black people in the 1950s.
The episode is set in Alabama, 1955. The title character of this episode is Rosa Parks, who was an influential figure in history for the civil rights movements in America that occurred during the 1950s.
The Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz visit 1955 Alabama and help to save the human race in order to preserve Rosa Parks’ place in history. But can they achieve this as someone trying to change events?
Now the thing is; I knew about racial segregation that happened in America at that time. I studied it in GCSE History, looking at the division between white and black people in America during the 1950s.
I also knew about Martin Luther King, who makes a brief appearance in the episode, played by Ray Sesay. I’m not familiar with Rosa Parks. Maybe it was briefly mentioned in my GCSE History lessons.
Thanks to this episode, I now know who Rosa Parks is and that’s the great thing about it. This is a ‘Doctor Who’ episode that feels like a proper historical, educational drama which I was pleased with.
It’s something that I’d rarely seen in ‘Doctor Who’ for a while. Previous episodes that went into history weren’t as serious as this. It is something that harks back to the classic 1960s historical tales.
It’s also something that wasn’t afraid to go into deeper territory. The 1950s time of America was not an altogether good time. There was a lot of horrible stuff going on as racial prejudice is one of them.
I found it shocking how whites mistreated blacks harshly simply because they were different. It was amazing to see that put forward to the small screen in 2018 especially since this is a family TV show.
You wouldn’t think it would be appropriate to do that. But this episode does that subject matter honestly without a compromise. We see what occurred in the 1950s and how harsh the times were.
The Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz are in a dangerous situation where they’re a bunch of interracial friends and nobody in 1950s Alabama likes them or wants them around. It was very shocking to see.
It made me want to scream at those people to leave the Doctor and her friends alone and accept them for who and what they are rather than be very prejudiced. But of course, that did not happen.
Rosa Parks changed things around in 1950s America by refusing to give up her seat on a bus when a white bus driver told her to. I found it interesting and very moving how events turned out in the tale.
It was amazing to learn how Rosa Parks’ place in history changed the way we humans behave and how we are a lot better in treating others as equals compared to back then. Not perfect, but better.
Vinette Robinson is brilliant as the title character, Rosa Parks. She brings across who Rosa is convincingly. You like her for who she is and you sympathise for the struggle that she goes through.
It must have been a hard struggle for Rosa to see to it that coloured people have equal rights much as whites. I would’ve found it a struggle if I had to live under those conditions and restrictions then.
Anyway, the episode has the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz trying to stop a time-travelling criminal, Joshua Bowman as Krasko. He’s trying to change history with Rosa refusing to give her seat on a bus.
This is during the Montgomery Bus Incident. And Krasko is doing this because…he’s a racist man as well? I raise that question because Krasko comes from the 79th century. It had me tilt my head then.
I would’ve thought racism had been abolished by the 79th century. It was pointed out to me that the future in ‘Doctor Who’ does not necessarily work to a ‘Star Trek’ future with racism being wiped out.
Krasko also comes from the Stormcage Containment Facility, which was the same place River Song came from when she was locked away for a time. It was nice to have that ‘Doctor Who’ connection.
Trevor White guest stars as James Blake, the bus driver whom Rosa Parks defies when she refuses to give up her seat in the Montgomery Bus Incident. I found Trevor White’s performance mesmerizing.
It was shocking to see James Black as one of the white people who hated blacks and he actually phoned the police to take Rosa away to get arrested. You’d really loathe the guy when you see him.
And it’s not just Rosa that James Blake had a problem with. In the episode, he had a problem with Ryan when he and Graham turned up during his fishing spot. It was very shocking to see his reaction.
You can see how much he wanted to get away from Ryan whilst he and Graham were having a laugh and trying to get him back on his bus. Sometimes the scene could be both funny and gruelling to see.
The dynamic of the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yaz has been excellent in the episode. You can clearly see them working as a team here, especially as they make sure history gets back on track.
They make sure that Rosa Parks’ boycotting of the Montgomery Bus is ensured without Krasko interfering. That is often pretty tricky, especially when Krasko keeps nudging history out of its track.
Jodie Whittaker excels again as the Doctor in this episode. I really love how she defied Krasko in his time-traveling crimes. That scene where she stamps Krasko’s time vortex manipulator is so brilliant.
Krasko almost strangles the Doctor in anger, but he can’t kill her since he’s got a chip inside his head to stop him killing her. It is one of those occasions as Jodie’s Doctor risks her life getting information.
For me, Jodie’s Doctor gets better and better in the first three episodes I’ve seen of her so far. I love how she is righting wrongs; saving humanity and working things out in the adventures she is having.
I also love how Jodie’s Doctor has her friends Graham, Ryan and Yaz helping her to save history and making sure Rosa Park’s place in history get preserved. Jodie’s Doctor is very generous and inclusive.
Bradley Walsh is equally excellent as Graham in the episode. He has his cautious moments during the episode, but I like how he seems so willing to help with keeping history on track with Rosa Parks.
Graham especially seems to know about Rosa Parks’ place in history, as he learned who she was as well as James Blake from his dear wife Grace. He also gets to be protective over Ryan in this episode.
This is when Ryan gets mistreated upon the TARDIS team’s arrival in 1955 Alabama. Graham also uses his bus driver experience to see that James Blake gets on the bus to drive it with Rosa on board.
Graham also drives the bus for James Blake to take over in the episode. He also helps the Doctor in a distraction whilst Ryan and Yaz are hiding away when a policeman is searching their room at a hotel.
Tosin Cole is brilliant as Ryan in the episode. Ryan gets the hardest time in this episode when he walks about 1950s Alabama with the Doctor, Graham and Yaz, because…you know…he’s a black guy.
Ryan gets struck on the face by a white guy with his wife, just when he was trying to be helpful. I found that shocking to see in the episode. It was pretty painful to see, especially on a re-watch here.
It was nice to see the scene between Ryan and Yaz where they discover how things have changed since the bad days of racial prejudice of 1950s America compared to today. It’s a great scene to see.
Ryan even has some nice scenes with Rosa Parks when he follows her…or stalks her…before helping her out with a committee and serving the coffee. He even gets to meet Martin Luther King in this. 😀
Mandip Gill is very good as Yaz in the episode. Again, I don’t think her character has been fleshed out properly so far. I hoped it would be savoured in the next episode, according to the next time trailer.
It was nice to see Yaz helping out in the episode; hear references to her family and seeing her doing some research in a library. This is when she’s cross-referencing bus timetables for Rosa Parks in this.
It was hard to tell how Yaz fits in with how 1950s Americans see her, even though she’s described as being ‘Mexican’ whereas in fact she’s of Pakistani descent. It was often at times confusing to watch.
Yaz could’ve easily just been sent off to sit with Ryan on the ‘coloured’ chairs aboard a bus. In fact, why didn’t she sit with Ryan on a ‘coloured’ chair of a bus? She could’ve given him a bit of company.
The climactic scene where Rosa Parks gets taken away and is arrested by the police is very effective and gut-wrenching to watch. I know how moved my Mum was when she was watching this episode.
If there is one criticism I would have for that scene though is that the pop song at the end slightly ruined it for me. It would’ve been better if there was very sad incidental music at the episode’s end.
Apart from that, the episode was great. ‘Rosa’ is definitely a ‘Doctor Who’ that deserves its high praise. I found this to be a great historical story for the Thirteenth Doctor TARDIS team throughout.
It had them saving history from a racist time-travelling criminal and it’s definitely an episode that works on all levels for me. The writing is far better and the characters seem well thought-out so far.
The tone of the show has improved greatly. Jodie Whittaker’s era of ‘Doctor Who’ has pleased me no end. I was so looking forward to seeing more adventures with Graham, Ryan and Yaz in Series 11.
The DVD/Blu-ray special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 1 of ‘The Complete Series 11’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s the ‘Rosa’ – Closer Look’ featurette as well as a commentary with Mandip Gill, co-writer Malorie Blackman and producer Alex Mercer.
‘Rosa’ rating – 9/10
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